Symbols have power. The ancient Romans were onto this, and they knew how to wield it. They dominated conquered people and kept them subjugated through that timeless implement of control—fear. The Romans planted symbols everywhere to keep the fear fresh. One of the most enduring and fearful symbols was that symbol of execution by crucifixion, the cross. The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, but they did tune it for maximum cruelty, and they did use it liberally, at least in Judea. The cross was a potent symbol of gruesome torture, fear and oppression for a thousand years until Constantine abolished crucifixion to honor Christ.
The symbol of the cross is no less potent now than it was thousands of years ago. But a remarkable thing happened. It now stands for love, hope and salvation. Even the atrocities of the Crusades and Klu Klux Klan, committed bearing the sign of the cross, didn’t permanently throw the symbol’s meaning back to its ancient horror. That the meaning of this symbol could be so radically transformed and still be powerfully evocative today is no less miraculous than bodily resurrection itself.
If you seek radical transformation for yourself, if there is a part of you that fills you with horror or angst, or if you desperately seek to make a break from your past, the symbol of the cross might offer you hope and encouragement. It has a thousand year history of darkness, and yet it was radically remade into a symbol of light and love. That remade meaning has endured for thousands of years more. If that hateful image could be redeemed from its past and fundamentally transformed, then surely by God’s power, we can be, too.
My Easter prayer for you is that the darkness in your past will be redeemed. The history of the cross’ symbolism wasn’t rewritten, and your history won’t be rewritten either. Whatever malice or spite is lying in your past will remain there. However, Jesus assures us in scripture that our returning is made more joyful to God because of our past sins, not despite them.
I used to wonder why Christians perceive more joy over one sinner returning than many staying on righteous paths. Staying on the straight and narrow is no mean feat, after all. I suspect the reason has to do with heartbreak. To use a sailing analogy, imagine a sailing ship returning with all her crew from a routine voyage. Certainly loved ones would happily welcome the expected return of any voyage. Imagine the heartbreak and grief instead if the ship failed to return and all were feared lost at sea. And then, imagine the ship limping into harbor with all souls accounted for. The rejoicing would be greater because the returning conquers the heartbreak.
There is heartbreak and grief when we veer off course. We inflict it on ourselves, on others and on God. Upon returning, the heartbreak is not just repaired as if we had never veered off but surmounted, vanquished, and transcended. It is like the resurrection of Jesus conquering his death or a symbol’s meaning transforming from cruelty to salvation. So search yourself for the darkness within you, acknowledge the heartbreak there, and look to the cross with hope for redemption.
Join the conversation. What is your deepest and most fervent hope?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.